Ibn Ridwan (998-1061/69)

The Ebers papyrus details Egyptian ideas about the pulse, an important diagnositc tool to Ibn Ridwan. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Egyptian scholar Ibn Ridwan commented on many medical and scientific issues of the time. He developed advice on the best way to achieve a sound medical diagnosis.

Ibn Ridwan was the son of a baker. He showed promise as a young boy and was sent to school in Cairo aged 10. Aged 15 he began teaching himself medicine while earning a living casting horoscopes. He became a successful doctor and won the support of a caliph who named him chief physician of all of Egypt. Ibn Ridwan was a pious man. Like Hippocrates, he advocated strict rules of conduct for medical practitioners. He said they should treat patients gently and discreetly, avoid using dangerous cures, and protect the lives of patients and unborn children.

Ibn Ridwan proposed an elaborate combination of methods for medical diagnosis. The doctor should observe the outer appearance of the patient’s body such as skin colour and temperature, palpate the patient’s abdomen, and feel his or her pulse. Ibn Ridwan’s procedure also involved testing the patient’s hearing, vision and speech, his or her movements, and ability to lift weights. The physician should also question the patient to evaluate his or her state of mind.